Test Drives

2019 Mazda 3 Sedan 2.0 Review: To err is human…

…to make luxury affordable is divine, and that’s exactly what the new Mazda 3 could achieve in Singapore

UPDATE: We’ve driven the Mazda 3 in Singapore! Here’s what we think of the Hatchback 1.5G Astina

Photos: Mazda, Derryn Wong

Mine Proving Ground, Yamaguchi Prefecture – CarBuyer has driven one of Singapore’s most highly-anticipated cars of 2019. It’s the new, seventh-generation of Mazda’s most popular and best-selling model, the Mazda 3 small hatchback/sedan.

All the background you need on the car is laid out in our comprehensive launch story/preview on CarBuyer.com.sg, including launch date, variants, standard equipment and more.

While the only confirmed model for Singapore so far is the 1.5-litre mild hybrid, another strong possibility for us is this car driven here, the 2.0-litre.

The Mazda 3 was previewed at the Singapore Motorshow in January, but it’s being launched for real in the second half of 2019

To sum it all up, everything except the 1.5-litre and 2.0-litre gasoline engines are new, that means a totally new platform, advanced powertrains, design, interior, infotainment and human machine interface, (HMI), and it’s the tip of the spear for a New Mazda.

We’ve test driven it, and the other important thing you need to know is that the Mazda 3 proves design-by-committee makes a weaker product, and that a car needs to be built for people, not accountants.

Even at first impressions, it’s off to a strong start. 

If you buy your cars based on looks alone – and it’s an important factor even in the mainstream segment – you may as well pre-sign the cheque right now.

As we’ve seen with the CX-5, Mazda 6, and pretty much all of its modern line-up, Mazda’s design department has really been killing it in recent times, with a distinct design language that’s unique and bears lots of native Japanese influence.

Chief designer Yasutake Tsuchida says they wanted to achieve “beauty through subtraction” and avoided lines and creases on the body. Coincidentally the Mercedes-Benz CLA claims similar through better proportions, but Mazda did it by emphasising surfaces and the interplay of light on the body of the car.

Watch our walkthrough video to see the sedan and hatchback differences clearly

That’s something achieved by Mazda’s unique design emphasis on sculpting, and the result is a car that looks even better in real life movement than it does in the pictures, despite the entire test drive session being overcast and rainy.

The new Mazda 3 will be available in hatchback (grey and red cars) and sedan (rear) for Singapore

As laid out in the preview story the hatchback appears the sportier of the two with Mazda intentionally adding some understatement to the sedan. Unfortunately that worked perhaps a little too well with the rain and the grey of the sedan we actually drove, and the hatchbacks easily stole the sedan’s visual thunder.

But it’s easy to imagine what the sedan would look like in Mazda’s signature Soul Red, like the hatch shown below, and with the new car Mazda has achieved the difficult task of making an everyday, mainstream car that looks exciting and desirable.

The drive toward less-is-more aesthetics is something inherently human, claims Mazda. If you don’t agree with that approach on the exterior, the interior might change your mind.

The team applied the same principles of reducing visual clutter here and the result is refreshing. Vents and seams have been eliminated from the upper dashboard so all you see is the elegant swoop of the unadulterated surfaces. In soft touch plastic, leather and satin chrome, they’re all pleasing to touch and to view, it’s very easy to forget you’re sitting in a mainstream Japanese sedan.

Driver ergonomics are improved, with the gearshifter and infotainment control knob moved forward into a more natural position, and there’s more space especially around the elbows thanks to a wide, soft armrest.

At first glance it’s all so upscale you wonder how Mazda will bring it to production without breaking price barriers. Look closer and there are still hard plastics and evidence of the Mazda 3’s mainstream positioning, but they’re cleverly shadowed in the underside of the high-rise dashboard, the glovebox door being a good example.

Instrument panel is clear and easy to read – the center ‘dial’ is a 7.0-inch TFT display

Mazda even claim to have made big efforts to unify the user experience by reducing spectrum variation of the white backlighting throughout the cabin, ensuring it looks better at night, as well as giving all of the switchgear a similar ‘lively’ haptic response.

Again, that’s something luxury brands talk about quite often, and the proof is that the latter certainly feel better and more consistent than the old car’s.

The operating surfaces of the dash are divided into clear zones with logical eye-line movements – the new-gen Mazda Connect infotainment widescreen is much larger (8.8-inches versus 7.0-inches before) again something Mazda said was a result of its human-focused research.

The proof is in the ease of use, everything works simply and efficiently when you’re driving – even if you lack the optional HUD for instance, the digital speedo sits at the very top of the digital instrument panel for quicker viewing, and the infotainment controller is simple to use without looking.

Mazda ditched the touchscreen and went with the rotary knob as the sole point of control saying it reduces driver distraction and improves efficiency. CarBuyer is no fan of in-car touchscreens, so it’s something we agree with whole-heartedly.   

Look (at the road) don’t touch – Mazda has gone back to rotary dial and ditched the touchscreen, and we love that move

Mazda has made big strides forward here. We drove the new and old cars back-to-back at Mine Proving Grounds, and after the clean elegance of the new car’s cabin, hopping into the cabin of the previous model feels like taking a two-generation step backwards.

In terms of space, the new car feels a little roomier, especially in front thanks to the more open and simple cabin concept, with rear feeling likewise, but not massively so – Honda’s Civic still reigns in the space race here.

On paper that ties in with the measurements saying the interior space is a tiny bit less than before. While the car has a longer wheelbase, rear legroom is 18mm less than before, and rear shoulder room 23mm less. Boot space has increased on the sedan, from 419-litres up to 450-litres, in contrast the hatchback’s is reduced from 364-litres to 334-litres.

Our seat time in the car was limited to four laps (with four laps in the previous car as well) of Mine’s main circuit and handling course, in cold and very rainy conditions, so a definitive analysis of the Mazda 3’s driving dynamics will have to wait for a local test drive.

However our first impressions were still positive, with noticeable improvements between the sixth and seventh-gen cars. 

For those interested in driving, the new Mazda 3 displays less understeer, has less roll in the corner, and much improved body control. The 2.0-litre engine still delivers a generous amount of power in a linear fashion, and doesn’t feel underpowered for Malaysian highway work.

For everyone else, the biggest takeaway is that the car’s ride quality and road manners are now seriously improved.

We’ve described the efforts Mazda has put in to reduce NVH (noise, vibration, harshness), as well as to make driving feel more natural and less strenuous (see sidebar), and they all come together to deliver a very comfortable car, one that feels far more like a big sedan than an everyday small sedan.

Compared to the previous model, high-speed sloshing over standing water is significantly reduced, as is wind, road and tyre noise, keeping in mind that a wet tarmac is noisier to drive on than dry.

Less of the hard cornering forces are transmitted to the occupants, and the Mazda 3 simply stays on your chosen line with a single steering input, smoothness and little effort, another byproduct of Mazda’s GVC (G Vectoring Control) system that’s standard on all variants.

Driving enthusiasts might prefer heavier or more feedback-rich steering, but it’s accurate and stress-free, a fitting metaphor for the fact that the Mazda 3 trades sportiness for overall ease of use. Mazda says the 3 is designed to be easy for absolutely everyone to drive.

The new Mazda 3 is quite an accomplishment for the brand from Hiroshima. It looks great, has a fantastic interior and features for a mainstream car, and should be refined enough that it can give even big sedans a run for their money. 

The remaining question mark is whether or not Mazda can keep its promise to become a proto-luxury version of itself without raising the car’s price tag too much compared to the previous generation.

That’s even more crucial since the Mazda 3 has no shortage of competition from crossovers and SUVs, but also newcomers like the Skoda Octavia in addition to resurgent Koreans such as the Kia Cerato Forte and Hyundai Avante.

If the price is right, Mazda will very clearly have a class leader on its hands.

Mazda 3 2.0 Sedan

Engine 1,997cc, inline 4
Power 155hp at 6000rpm
Torque 203Nm at 4000rpm
Gearbox 6-speed automatic
0-100km/h TBC
Top Speed TBC
Fuel Efficiency 6.4L/100km (estimated)
VES Band / CO2 TBC
Agent Eurokars Mazda
Price TBA
Availability Second half 2019

Mazda 3 Sedan – Exterior Shots

Mazda 3 Sedan – Interior Shots

Mazda 3 Sedan – Detail Shots






about the author

Derryn Wong
CarBuyer's chief editor has a keen interest in all things mechanical, technological, animal and mineral. He's particularly fascinated by eco-cars and cars which make no logical sense. An avid motorcyclist and photographer, he also enjoys cats. Follow him on Instagram @werryndong